Can you help MORE people by being LESS available?

I am working with a client who is a college professor, department head, committee leader, published author, researcher, caregiver, and more. She keeps headshots of her students on her wall so that she can put names with faces. She is funny, kind, and generous. She is an extraordinary person who wants to help others.

She is also stressed, exhausted, and drowning in work and personal obligations.

Through coaching, we are working on documenting, delegating, and prioritizing her tasks. She has taken control of her email inbox and is working with her department assistant in ways that are productive for them both.

There is still a lot to do, but the dominos are lining up for her now.

So, what’s next?

This client wants to write another book. She has research interests that she would like to pursue. However, it is difficult to do that when she maintains an open-door policy.

She is continually asked for “a minute” by passing students and colleagues. She always accommodates. She wants to be there for people when they need her.

In one of our conversations, she told me about a professor in her graduate program. She described how his door was closed (and not opened again) every day until noon. He took all of his meetings after 12:00 pm.

What was the result of this self-imposed isolation? This professor was the most prolific writer and researcher she’s ever worked with. His work helped scores of people both in academic circles and practitioners.

I asked her the following question:

“Are you saying that he helped more people by being less available?”

Stunned by her own realization, she answered, “Yes.”


Success is not just about completing tasks

In one of my training courses, I discuss the importance of having an inventory of your tasks and a plan to complete them. This is a critical productivity skill. You can’t drive the car if you forget your key fob, right?

But task completion is not the goal. Task management propels your steps toward the goal.

In the training class, I demonstrate this by walking around the room with my gaze fixed on my feet.

If I keep my eyes focused downward, I am thrilled with my progress. I mean, look at how many forward steps I am taking! Wow!

BUT I’m walking in circles. I haven’t really gone anywhere. I ended up back where I started. I am nowhere near the goal.


What is the goal?

The goal is your mountaintop in the distance. Your goal is the thing, or the set of things, that you don’t have right now. And I’m not necessarily talking about material things.

For you, the goal could be:

  • Launching a business
  • Retiring by a certain age
  • Getting out of “the weeds”
  • Running for political office
  • Creating flexibility for the things you love doing

…or any other number of things. One thing that these goals have in common is the need to self-isolate and – wait for it – think, plan, strategize, dream, etc.

Common wisdom for entrepreneurs dictates that we should spend more time working on our business rather than in it – especially if we want the business to grow or if we’d like to take a vacation now and then.

Whether you own an LLC or not, you are your “business.” Your life’s work is your business. You are an enterprise unto yourself.

To what mountaintop are you directing your business?


You need to withdraw

Yes, there are phases of life where all one can do is keep the hamster wheel spinning. The mountaintop in the distance may be covered with clouds. So, it is with self-love and the desire for the success of your future self that you must withdraw from the craziness of life on a somewhat regular basis.

During the hamster wheel phases, your withdrawal may be infrequent and unsuccessful. For example, my sister-in-law took time off of work recently. She had plans for this time – really great plans. The world had other ideas. Crisis after crisis happened and none of her plans came to fruition. It was still important for her to take this time, and more of it!

Withdrawal offers perspective. It allows us to move our gaze from our scurrying feet to the (cloudy?) mountaintop.

Those of us who carry the desire to help and please others will fight this need to be alone. We, unfortunately, equate responsiveness with success.

But what happens when we are not available? Does the team collapse or do they solve problems sufficiently? Do the kids wear the same underwear for a week? Does the world come to a screeching halt?

Do we learn that we are not as essential as we think we are?

Plan time for isolation. Be alone with your mountaintop. Breathe in the fresh air.

Give your feet some rest.

Set Goals eBook

Are you ready to finally achieve what you set out to do?

Read my eBook Set Goals…even if you’re not convinced you’ll achieve them.

Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Janet Barclay

    Melissa, this is very important to me at this stage in my life and my business. I’ve been cutting back on my work hours and it’s made me more efficient, because I know I have less time to get things done. What an amazing thing to realize!

  2. Julie Bestry

    I couldn’t agree more. I am always agog at the ways in which people are fearful or unwilling to set boundaries, but there has to be a balance between availability and insularity. For 20 years, I’ve been telling people that you have to think of yourself as your #1 most important client, and must treat yourself with the respect deserving of someone in that role. Thanks for making it so clear!


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